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Why Transcreation Has Never Been More Important

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Launching a product or service in a new country is incredibly exciting, but it’s also fraught with risks. Most companies will be facing established competitors – typically either deep-pocketed multinationals or indigenous businesses with local expertise. Foreign market entrants can rarely afford to make a single mistake, and cultural misunderstandings are likely to be fatal.

Consequently, there’s no excuse for things getting lost in translation. We’ve come a long way from the 1970s, when Ford launched the Pinto hatchback in Brazil without bothering to check whether this name sounded rude or obscene in Portuguese. (Needless to say, it did.) Nowadays, multinational businesses go to great pains to ensure product/brand/trading names are inoffensive or meaningless in every target market’s mother tongue. And there’s no reason why smaller companies can’t do this as well, provided they employ a transcreation service…

What is Transcreation?

Put simply, transcreation is a creative approach to translation centred on adapting a marketing message for a particular audience or territory. In circumstances where a straight translation service might not allow a company’s ethos or documentation to resonate, transcreation retains the core message while adapting copy or content to ensure it appeals to the target market.

A powerful example of transcreation in action was Intel’s decision to change its English-language ‘Sponsors of Tomorrow’ slogan to ‘In love with the future’ for Portuguese consumers. The latter conveyed a consistent sentiment, whereas the former suggested Intel wouldn’t be able to deliver on its promises. A basic translation service would have missed this, but local knowledge ensured the company’s reputation was maintained in all Portuguese-language marketing materials.

The process is also sometimes referred to as international copywriting, to distinguish it from domestic copywriting services. It’s a highly skilled niche, requiring an intimate understanding of two languages and their specific nuances. It also involves an ongoing awareness of constantly evolving social norms and cultural phenomena in the foreign nation.

Why Does Transcreation Matter?

In 2019, most marketplaces could accurately be described as mature. There are few industries where the rules are still being written, or where unprofessionalism is acceptable. Poor grammar might have been acceptable on ecommerce websites twenty years ago, but today’s savvy online shoppers will simply migrate onto more polished competitor platforms. Consumer expectations are higher than ever before, and clumsy attempts to compete in overseas markets will be thrown into harsh relief by indigenous brands.

There’s an urban legend about Pepsi-Cola attempting to translate the phrase “Come alive with Pepsi” into Chinese. Rather than celebrating the restorative powers of their caffeinated beverage, the Chinese translation suggested to consumers that Pepsi could resurrect their ancestors. Whether or not this story is true, it still encapsulates the risks of merely translating words, rather than wider sentiments. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Pepsi has struggled to establish itself in China ever since, losing huge sums of money in the process.

Key Considerations when Choosing a Transcreation Service Provider:

Firstly, ensure the service provider has recent experience in your target market/s. As mentioned above, social trends and pop culture references often evolve exclusively in one country or region. Trends or preferences also evolve quickly, so it’s crucial to ensure a transcreation service provider has its finger on the pulse of each nation it’ll be working in.

That last sentence used the term ‘nation’ rather than ‘language’ quite deliberately. There can be huge linguistic differences across regions and states, let alone countries and continents. George Bernard Shaw was right to describe the UK and USA as being two countries separated by a common language, though his would have been stronger were it made in reference to South Africa and Jamaica. It’s doubtful any marketing documentation would be equally effective in these Commonwealth states, despite both speaking English as an official language.

The best way to achieve message-consistency is by employing native speaking writers living in each country. That’s the approach Language Connect has taken, recruiting transcreation experts who understand everything from message to mood in their mother tongue. Work produced by our international copywriters is also verified by a second writer to confirm its quality. An extra pair of eyes maximises the accuracy of international copywriting, but lesser translation services may not offer this additional safety net.

Finally, don’t be tempted to take the cheap option and utilise algorithm-based online translation services. These tend to generate garbled nonsense, simply replacing one word with another without any respect for grammar or sentence construction. By contrast, a dedicated transcreation expert may feel it’s necessary to completely rewrite original copy, ensuring every word makes sense and every point is accurately made. This is the only route to follow in terms of translating key marketing sentiments into text foreign nationals will respect and appreciate.


For more information on how Language Connect could help your business, get in touch today.

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